Starting January 1st, 2022, visitors are challenged to hike each of the six historic fire towers in the Catskill Park and submit information about their visit at any time during the year to earn recognition and prizes.
For nearly a century, observers watched the forests of New York State-including the Catskill and Adirondack forest preserves-from more than 100 fire towers perched atop the highest peaks, searching for the dangerous, telltale signs of forest fires. The Fire Tower Challenge highlights the remaining public fire towers in the Catskill Park.
Launched in 2019, the first Challenge drew 878 finishers who submitted nearly 4,400 selfies from the base of the region’s five remaining fire towers. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) received challenge entries from every region of the state, 12 additional states, and Canada, and participants hiked an estimated 21,000 miles in the Catskills.
Stewardship of the fire towers is a partnership with the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development. The Catskill Center, through the Catskill Fire Tower Project, manages six fire towers in the Catskill Park for public access and interpretation under a Volunteer Stewardship Agreement with DEC. Dedicated volunteers help maintain and staff each of the fire towers on weekends and holidays throughout the summer and fall seasons.
The 2022 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge encourages experienced hikers to visit the region’s five historic fire towers located on Balsam Lake Mountain (Hardenburgh), Hunter Mountain (Hunter), Overlook Mountain (Woodstock), Red Hill Mountain (Denning), and Tremper Mountain (Shandaken), as well as a new sixth fire tower that was opened in the Catskills in the fall of 2019. The Upper Esopus Fire Tower is located at the Congressman Maurice D. Hinchey Catskills Visitor Center in Mt. Tremper and allows all visitors who may not otherwise be able to undertake the challenging hike of several miles to experience a fire tower on the high peaks in the Catskills.
To complete the challenge, hikers must hike to all six DEC-owned fire towers in the Catskills between January 1st, and December 31st, 2022. Once completed, participants submit a log of their completed hikes along with a favorite photo to the Challenge email address: CatskillsChallenge@dec.ny.gov or via mail. Entries must be postmarked by January 7th, 2023.
Participants that complete the challenge will receive a letter, commemorative 2022 Catskills Fire Tower Challenge patch, and a one-year subscription to DEC’s Conservationist magazine, currently celebrating its 75th year in circulation. Upon completion, finishers will also be able to download a customizable certificate and will be eligible to win hiking accessories after the challenge period is closed.
Interested hikers can complete their first fire tower of the challenge during two of the guided First Day Hikes recently announced by Governor Hochul. The Catskill Center, in partnership with DEC, will host two guided fire tower hikes on January 1st, 2022, to Overlook Mountain Fire Tower and Upper Esopus Fire Tower. Space is limited and preregistration is required for both hikes. For additional details and to register, visit DEC’s website.
Participants are encouraged to practice Leave No Trace principles and Love Our New York Lands by recreating safely and sustainably, hiking in suitable conditions based on weather and experience level.
For more information about the Catskills and to experience the Upper Esopus Fire Tower, the newest and easiest-to-reach fire tower in the region, consider a visit to the Catskills Visitor Center on Route 28 in the heart of the Catskill Park. For more information on the fire towers and complete challenge rules, visit DEC’s website.
Photo of Hunter Mountain Fire Tower provided by Catskill Center.